03/08/2016, 15.48
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Indonesia marks total solar eclipse as public holiday

Rare astral phenomenon puts the archipelago nation on edge. Hotels booked for weeks. Some 10,000 foreign visitors, including a Thai princess, and 100,000 Indonesian tourists have travelled to see the event.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indonesia is eagerly waiting for a total solar eclipse tonight and tomorrow.

From Sumatra in the west to the Maluku Islands in the east, people are flocking to watch the eclipse, which will be visible across much of Southeast Asia.

At least 10,000 foreign visitors and 100,000 Indonesian tourists have booked into hotels in the archipelago nation to be in the front-row for the rare and suggestive show. Foreign visitors will include Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, from Thailand.

Special events have been organised across the country in connection with the event, from a festival featuring live bands to dragon boat races. What is more the government has decreed a public holiday for tomorrow.

“This is a very special year because we have this phenomenon – a tourism attraction created by God,” said I Gde Pitana, the government’s head of foreign tourism. “We are very lucky”.

The total eclipse will sweep across 12 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, from west to east. Partial eclipses will be visible in northern Australia and parts of Southeast Asia.

For Indonesia’s Muslims (205 million), the experience will be deeply spiritual, with Islamic leaders urging the faithful to perform special eclipse prayers.

“Our Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] said the prayer signifies the greatness of Allah, who created this wonderful phenomenon,” said Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Islamic clerical body.

Conversely, some of Indonesia’s tribal people – up to 70 million of the country’s 250 million inhabitants are indigenous peoples – are fearful of the phenomenon.

Members of the Dayak people in one part of Borneo Island will be performing a Balian Ba Ampar-Ampar to ensure it does not last too long. The ritual involves traditional music, chanting mantras and giving offerings of flowers and incense to ensure the sun, the source of life, does not disappear.

In Bali, the eclipse will coincide with the Hindu Day of Silence. Hindus are urged not to turn on lights and to move only on foot so as not to spoil the show.

In the Malukus, the island of Ternate has proven such a popular eclipse-viewing spot that local tourism officials have had to find extra accommodation in boats.

Many scientists are also coming to Indonesia. A four-member team from NASA is heading to Maba, a small town in the Maluku Islands where the total eclipse is expected to last around three minutes, one of the longest times it can be seen.

The last total solar eclipse occurred on 20 March 2015, and was visible only from the Faroe Islands and Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago.

(Mathias Hariyadi contributed to this article)

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